Capacity Building

The Council of Independent Colleges selects 25 member institutions to form inaugural work-based learning consortium

Since its founding in 1956, the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) has created a network of more than 700 nonprofit independent colleges and universities, state-based councils of independent colleges, and other higher education affiliates. With a focus on future-proofing their member institutions, helping students who may not have the time to devote to an internship that can last for a full semester or summer on top of a paid job, a heavy course load, and/or family obligations has become a key focus for CIC. Traditional Internships are a proven path to building employability and the professional networks needed for students to progress from college to career, but what happens when they are inaccessible due to cost, geography, and social capital?

The situation

Learners need help connecting their studies to a career, but an internship is often inaccessible to those who need it most.

After graduation, once learners’ careers go off track, they often stay that way. Statistics show that 43% of workers were underemployed in their first job and were five times more likely to be underemployed five years later than those who were not (Burning Glass Technologies & Strada Institute for the Future of Work, 2018). Meanwhile, graduates who avoided the underemployment trap rarely slid into underemployment. 

Building a bridge between college and career is a clear way for higher education to prepare learners for the future and avoid underemployment, but how can we ensure access to these opportunities? Internships are the traditional approach, with a proven record of employability and job placement outcomes, yet high costs for participating employers and incompatibility with academic schedules stand out as key reasons this approach cannot work for everyone. Simply put, we need accessible solutions for all learners to gain work experience integrated into their studies that are online, authentic, and flexible around learning and work schedules while eliminating the financial and accessible burdens for all involved.

CIC’s experience in innovative program development, deep understanding of the independent college and university landscape, and evolving student needs positioned them well to tackle career preparedness at scale. So, with a clear problem identified and the experience needed to develop a solution, CIC partnered with Riipen, Ascendium Education Group, and Strada Education Foundation to pilot a consortium approach to bring flexible work-based learning to their 700+ members.

“Building cost-effective solutions for our members is a key strategic priority for CIC. We are delighted to launch this college-to-career pipeline in collaboration with Riipen.” 

- Marjorie Hass, President, CIC

The solution

A work-based learning consortium of institutions and educators equipping learners with equitable access to a platform with employer-led projects to build skills, provide real-world experiences, and create professional connections required for success in their future careers.

Backed by US$3 million in funding from Ascendium Education Group and Strada Education Foundation, the Consortium for Work-Based Learning will work with over 125 faculty to integrate real-world, employer-designed projects into existing courses at 25 CIC member institutions over the next three years. Thanks to this generous support, there is no cost to participate for learners, educators, or employers. 

Each participating institution received a full license to the Riipen work-based learning platform where they will assess progress and outcomes, find new industry partners to work with in the marketplace, and communicate with their existing employer networks in one tool. The combination of a fully white-labeled portal with straightforward onboarding of their existing networks makes each implementation look and feel like an extension of the school’s current technology stack. Once an experience is started, communication, meetings, and the exchange of materials between learners and employers occur where the educator can always see, making progress check-ins quick and easy.

“This is an exciting opportunity for students to gain valuable hands-on experience through internships embedded in their courses. That these [micro] internships are available to all students regardless of where they are located levels the playing field for all students. We are grateful to our funders for making this possible.” 

- Titilayo Ufomata, SVP, Academic Programs, CIC

“Access to the Riipen experiential learning platform will strengthen institutional efforts and complement the work of faculty champions as they revise courses and design student projects and experiences that link work-based learning to academics.”

- Jeff Frederick, Provost, Wingate University

Partnership outcomes

After a rigorous selection process, the 25 member institutions and their program teams of faculty, career services, and chief academic officers assembled. Starting Spring 2024 through Spring 2026, the program teams will work to update curricula and integrate experiential learning into course materials. During this time, selected institutions will work together to develop a community of practice on career-connected programming so industry-aligned education can continue to thrive outside of the consortium.

“The Consortium for Work-Based Learning will offer a community of practice where faculty members who lead successful courses will be encouraged to add their course materials to a library of resources to build a body of work for other faculty members at similar institutions,”

- Titilayo Ufomata, SVP, Academic Programs, CIC

By the end of the 2026 academic year, it is expected that over 11,000 students, 125 faculty members, and 2,500 employers will participate in the consortium. As it is a pilot program, CIC will also collect data and report on the work-based learning landscape at the participating institutions and the impact of the projects on students, faculty members, and employers. To continue broadening its reach, CIC member institutions interested in work-based learning but who were not selected to be in the initial round of the consortium grant have been offered special network pricing to support their efforts.

“Experience is such a crucial part of education, so this is a fantastic addition for our students and faculty. We expect this to heighten our abilities to continue increasing skills and creating connections for our students and within our community.”

- Barb Tupper, AVP Advancement, Coe College


Burning Glass Technologies and Strada Institute for the Future of Work (2018) , "The Permanent Detour: Underemployment’s Long-Term Effects on the Careers of College Grads"

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